The Irish Times view on blasphemy: An overdue referendum

The Constitutional Convention voted decisively to remove the ban

As far back as 1991 the Law Reform Commission recommended that the Constitutional prohibition on blasphemy be removed. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

As far back as 1991 the Law Reform Commission recommended that the Constitutional prohibition on blasphemy be removed. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The Government has agreed to hold a referendum later this year to remove the constitutional provision which outlaws blasphemy. This is long overdue.

As far back as 1991 the Law Reform Commission recommended that the constitutional prohibition on blasphemy be removed and in 2013 the Constitutional Convention also recommended its removal after considering the matter in detail.

Article 40.6.1 (i), which guarantees freedom of speech, also says that the publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law. The Defamation Act 2009 made blasphemy a crime punishable by a €25,000 fine.

The law came to prominence last year when a Garda inquiry began after a complaint was made over British actor Stephen Fry making critical comments about God during an interview on RTÉ. No prosecution was brought in the case.

The Minister said this week that by removing the provision from the Constitution voters can send a strong message to the world that laws against blasphemy do not reflect Irish values.

When the Constitutional Convention examined the issue in 2013 it heard from proponents and opponents of the measure. The 100-member convention voted by 61 per cent to 38 per cent to remove the provision from the Constitution.

It recommended that the current constitutional ban should be replaced with a new general provision which would make incitement to religious hatred an offence to be defined by law.

The Government is hoping to combine the referendum on blasphemy with one to remove Article 41.2, which states the State shall “endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home”. The convention in 2013 recommended that this wording should be amended to reflect the modern world.

A referendum on both issues should ideally be held in tandem with the presidential election, which is due to take place in November, assuming there is a contest for the position.

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